It happens at every event. A fight goes to the ground, and within 30 seconds if someone’s face doesn’t look like a half-eaten pulled pork sandwich or an arm isn’t being torque to grossly unnatural angles, the spectators begin booing. There are just a lot of fans, the “casual” sort, who aren’t big on all that grappling stuff, probably never will be. But take those same fans and put them in a room with a kickboxing event on and they’re like, “What’s up with this shit?” I’m not guessing here either, I’ve conducted this experiment on friends.
It’s baffling. Take away the grappling, and mixed martial arts IS kickboxing. So how does it make sense that UFC fans with a dislike for ground action don’t love kickboxing?
MMAFighting recently spoke to kickboxing great Tyrone Spong and he offered his own confusion on this topic:
“I think it’s stupid, I really don’t understand. It’s something about American culture. I haven’t figured it out yet. At all the UFC (events), you see the people, the crowds, the audience they start booing when guys go to the ground, when they wrestle a lot or do jiu-jitsu. But then they start applauding and yelling a lot when they stand and strike and bang. I don’t know if it’s the ring or the Octagon or the small gloves. I don’t know what it is. People in the states like to see guys bang it out, but at the same time kickboxing isn’t that popular. Kickboxing is all about striking and people standing and trading and banging it out. I don’t understand.”
First and foremost I blame it on Van Damme. In 1989 he starred in Kickboxer, a cinematic masterpiece that set the bar a little too high amongst the viewing public. If not for that stupid Rain Man flick, it would have won an Oscar. After that, when someone would happen across a kickboxing bout on some off-brand network, they were treated to no slow-mo jumping split kicks. They saw no Tong Po fucking dudes up with his braid. Instead they saw a weird boxing match between two guys they never heard of on a channel they didn’t know existed.
Of slightly less consequence is the theory that no promoter has ever approached it correctly in America. Spong is right, cultural nuances much be taken into account. We are a pampered society. I can sit at my desk with my laptop, television, remotes, beer stocked mini-fridge, cell phone, and once I figure out how to fashion a serviceable catheter I won’t have to get up. Ever. That’s the goal of being an American. It must be easy. If it isn’t easy to find, and doesn’t have a name we recognize, we aren’t interested. And kickboxing has never been easy to find in the states.
And now, seeing as how they’d have to compete against the UFC, it’s probably too late for kickboxing to ever make significant headway in America.